Zinermon v. Burch
Decided on Feb. 27, 1990; 494 US 113


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (federal), 14th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the Parratt rule [Parratt v. Taylor] necessarily mean that Respondent's complaint fails to allege any deprivation of due process because he was constitutionally entitled to nothing more than what he received - an opportunity to sue petitioners in tort for his allegedly unlawful confinement?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Respondent Darrell Burch, while allegedly medicated and disoriented, signed forms requesting admission to and treatment at a Florida state mental hospital, in apparent compliance with state statutory requirements for "voluntary" admission to such facilities. After his release, he brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 in the District Court against petitioners - physicians, administrators, and staff members at the hospital - on the ground that petitioners had deprived him of his liberty without due process of law. The complaint alleged that they violated state law by admitting him as a voluntary patient when they knew or should have known that he was incompetent to give informed consent to his admission, and that their failure to initiate Florida's involuntary placement procedure denied him constitutionally guaranteed procedural safeguards.

The District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh circuit reversed and remanded the decision. It was held that Burch's complaint was sufficient to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violation of his procedural due process rights. The Attorney General appealed the Court of Appeals' reversed decision, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case again.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Richard M. Powers argued the cause for respondent.
Louis F. Hubener, Assistant Attorney General of Florida, argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Leon Friedman and Steven R. Shapiro; and for the American Orthopsychiatric Association et al. by John Townsend Rich, James E. Kaplan, Ruth L. Henning, and Leonard S. Rubenstein. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Petitioner.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"We conclude that petitioners cannot escape 1983 liability by characterizing their conduct as a 'random, unauthorized' violation of Florida law which the State was not in a position to predict or avert, so that all the process Burch could possibly be due is a postdeprivation damages remedy. Burch, according to the allegations of his complaint, was deprived of a substantial liberty interest without either valid consent or an involuntary placement hearing, by the very state officials charged with the power to deprive mental patients of their liberty and the duty to implement procedural safeguards. Such a deprivation is foreseeable, due to the nature of mental illness, and will occur, if at all, at a predictable point in the admission process. Unlike Parratt [Parratt v. Taylor] and Hudson [Hudson v. Palmer], this case does not represent the special instance of the Mathews due process analysis where postdeprivation process is all that is due because no predeprivation safeguards would be of use in preventing the kind of deprivation alleged. We express no view on the ultimate merits of Burch's claim; we hold only that his complaint was sufficient to state a claim under 1983 for violation of his procedural due process rights."

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con

  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the United States Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit by a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.